Quixotic: A Letter

I read and skimmed the chapter on Sartre in my new book by William Barrett, and I came away from it feeling inspired and rejuvenated. I wrote some notes in my journal, arriving at the conclusion that human freedom has no limits, at least from certain perspectives. I know it probably sounds too optimistic, or “idealistic” in a naive sense of the term, yet what else is philosophy for if it can’t exaggerate a little? And now I’ll finish reading Native Son to see what ideas the story bears out.

I bet I sound like a kook to you with my talk of freedom and so forth, but it’s still important to me. Maybe there’s something kind of Peter Pan about libertarian ideas. However, the implications of liberty in the abstract are far reaching, and it’s a serious philosophical issue with a lot of relevance to our lives. Someday there’s a couple of books I want to read in their entirety: one is Being and Nothingness and the other is Don Quixote. In my experience with Cervantes and Shakespeare, the former is about individual freedom, the latter is deterministic and fixed, more like Freudian psychology. It’s interesting that the two writers were contemporaries and died on the same day in 1616. For me, it’s kind of either/or, one or the other, and I think I pick Cervantes.

I remember when in college I was sort of forced to accept Shakespeare and Freud, the unconscious, the idea of nature, and all that, after I’d been exposed to Sartre and other philosophers, plus Don Quixote. There’s a world of difference between these two angles. It might be said that the idealistic side has no common sense, hence the meaning of “quixotic.” And then you have to consider the role of Sancho Panza, the one who has sanity and a clear head. Sancho is realistic.

I don’t know about all of this, but I’m just getting started with my exploration of the possibilities, and the Barrett book fueled the fire for me today.

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